Jake was strutting around wearing a black hoodie again. As he scampered up the steps he brazenly offered his salutations, impervious to the fact that he wasn't wearing the correct uniform. ‘Alright sir?’
‘Not bad,’ I replied, wearily ignoring his all too obvious transgression. I was, in all honesty, unwilling to receive a predictable volley of abuse for an audacious attempt to enforce the school rules, a foolhardy act that would invariably go unsupported by our SLT. Two menacing looking year 11 pupils proceeded to swagger past, their identities obscured by scarves. Bright white trainers had replaced their school shoes and, like Jake, they both wore the sinister looking, ubiquitous black hoodie. In an attempt to shelve responsibility, I deluded myself into thinking that a member of our pastoral team must have challenged them by now, it was 10.30am after all.
A group of four pupils gathered in front of me. One spat out his chewing gum and mockingly laughed as another member of staff asked him to pick it up. In response to the teacher’s further, more forceful insistence, he angrily shouted, ‘I ain’t fu**in’ pickin’ it up!’ before nonchalantly turning and walking away. Meanwhile, another pupil was on her phone whilst, further away, a gang of three, shouting and screaming, ran in and out of a classroom – unwisely left unlocked and unattended by a rather naïve supply teacher.
It was break-time and I was on duty, charged with policing the rear entrance to the main building – apparently, only pupils needing the toilet and those with permission slips may enter. I sipped a pale, rather tepid mug of tea as I surveyed the playground. Mobile phones, hoodies and trainers were everywhere, littering an otherwise pleasant, some might say quintessentially English, pastoral scene. They have become so commonplace, one could be mistaken for thinking them mandatory additions to the official school uniform. I looked around and started to count the number of infractions on display. One, two, three, four…sixteen!
'My God!' I thought, experiencing a rare attack of reality. Yes...sixteen rules were being broken! I suddenly realised the rather uncomfortable, shameful truth that I’ve become immune, indifferent and numb to our students’ hostility to authority, openly demonstrated by their shocking willingness to challenge and abuse the individuals charged with wielding it - us. In short, they flout what exists of the code of behaviour with impunity. My moral compass has indeed been recalibrated: right and wrong, good and bad, what’s acceptable and what isn’t, these have all been clouded and confused. Like a veteran burying the worst excesses of his wartime experiences, or an abused woman interpreting her partner’s ire as a benign manifestation of marital concern, I have subconsciously repressed my natural response to the behaviours exhibited by our pupils and, for all intents and purposes, normalised them in an effort to preserve what little sanity I have left. The alternative is too uncomfortable to contemplate. In order to protect my health and mental well-being, and without the means to do it, I no longer even attempt to enforce the school's rules.
Moreover, and perhaps more indicatively, neither does our SLT. I frequently witness our senior leaders ignore bad behaviour that should be challenged. They shamelessly turn a blind eye to pupils indulging in the most shocking activities without so much as a gentle plea to stop. With resigned indifference, I recently witnessed our Head ignore several pupils loitering in the corridor during what should have been third lesson. She never even stopped to ask why they were there. The fact that they were shouting, swearing and disrupting other classrooms didn't seem to matter - she was obviously far too busy. Or, more to the point, perhaps she was using the same defense-mechanism as me – bury your head in the sand and you live to work another day. The alternatives are either early retirement or stress-induced insanity.